MONSTER MEMBER MARILYN ASKS: I am a hard worker with my eye on the grand prize: A promotion into management within the next year. I graduated from college two years ago with a great GPA and two good internships under my belt, and I was hired right away into a midsize consumer products firm. When I was first hired, my new employer made lots of noise about what a high-potential employee I was, but now it seems I'm getting treated like everyone else, rotating through assignments and not getting pushed forward at all.
I have a plan and a timeline in my head, and it seems like these folks don't share it. My performance reviews have been very positive, but no one has initiated a conversation about what my own career goals are. I'm wondering if I should look somewhere else, ask the person who hired me what's going on or just sit tight and wait. I'd appreciate any advice you can give me, because I don't want to make a wrong move here. It's just that I had planned on being a star, and it doesn't seem to be turning out that way.
WHAT THE EXPERT SAYS: You're certainly correct in wanting to play this one carefully, because your potential to be a persuasive, effective manager is on the line each time you communicate "up" at work. Your situation is doubly tricky, because you're a woman in a corporate environment that still doesn't have its head on straight about ambitious females. Trying too aggressively to move ahead in this situation could well get you dismissed as hard-to-manage, while remaining too quiet will render you invisible.
Why didn't you raise this question during your performance review? That's the natural time to discuss your next career step. I wouldn't take any of the choices you listed in your question. Instead, I'd suggest talking to the supervisor who did your performance review about a follow-up "career development" discussion. The tone here will be essential: Not meek, not cranky, just straightforward and logical. The approach should be something like, "I've been thinking about my last performance review and the next one coming up in X months, and I'd like to talk about what you think I might be doing to position myself as a future leader with this organization."
Let me suggest, though, that you must understand the difference between academic and managerial success. Robert Joss, dean of the Stanford Graduate School of Business, addressed the question of how quickly smart young people should expect to be promoted at a leadership seminar at Stanford. He warned against moving too quickly and missing important steps along the way. He further reminded the Stanford MBA students that managerial acumen is achieved through practice and experiences that help them learn how to inspire and control -- two skills that can't be mastered through books.
Joss also recommended a book you might find helpful. The Leadership Pipeline by Ram Charan advises high-potential young people and their supervisors alike to eschew the star system in favor of good solid training that takes some time. Joss says, "Leadership is a performing art, just like diving or singing, and the instrument is you. It takes lots of practice, and it takes considerable self-knowledge and self-management."
So, Marilyn, I'd say you and the people in your company who are charged with helping you develop your career need to have some conversations about how you can get the experience you need. Think less about titles now and more about getting broad experience making things happen, and you'll be on your way to earning the leadership roles you covet.
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